Gary B. Nash
The American Revolution played an important role in African Americans' quest for freedom. It marked the first mass rebellion by slaves in American history, gave rise to the first civil rights movement, and resulted in the first large-scale constructions of free black life. African slaves in North America knew that their natural rights were violated by their enslavement, although a confluence of events heightened their restiveness and provided them with the ideology-laden phrases that they could deploy in their struggle to secure their liberty whenever and wherever possible. The Revolution offered slaves a chance to realize this dream. African American revolutionaries saw the war as a way to quench their thirst for freedom, to end corrupt power, and to die for their natural rights.
Through their successfully waged war and also by their novel political strategies, eighteenth-century North Americans seeking home rule made history. By systematically organizing around a refusal of British goods and developing a new national taste, they politicized the everyday. Twenty years later, this politicization was reprised in the French Revolution. Whereas the new American aesthetic was defined by sobriety and domestic production, the forms generated in the French Revolutionary decade combined the symbols of Republicanism with styles connoting non-aristocratic values. The likeness and difference of the role of culture, domesticity, and gender in the American and French revolutions are represented in their iconic forms—homespun for the United States and the dress of the sans-culottes for France. Both revolutions were characterized by a consistent investment in material culture and everyday life, and gave rise to new political cultures. This reformulation is best conceptualized using the term “cultural revolution.”
When the American Revolution was over, citizens of the new nation could not agree about the event's true meaning and the best way to preserve its authentic legacy. After the new federal government was established in the 1790s, these tensions invaded the national political arena and contributed to the formation of the first political parties that became known as Democratic-Republicans and Federalists. Those who supported George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Federalist Party saw the war simply as a battle for home rule. On the other hand, those who gravitated toward Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans interpreted the Revolution as a conflict not only about home rule but also about who should rule at home. For these American women and men, the principles of equality and natural rights were the Revolution's most important legacies. This chapter discusses the national politics of the new nation following the American Revolution, and examines the origins of the first political parties, the French Revolution and mass politicization, and inclusions and exclusions in the first political parties.
P. J. Marshall
Britain valued its American colonies primarily because of their contribution to the nation's security, power, and influence in Europe. A recurring British fear was that France, Britain's inevitable enemy during the period, might invade the British Isles. Many argued that Britain must be actively engaged in Europe, and that it was a fundamental British interest to prevent the French from dominating the continent. There is a general consensus on the main trends in British foreign relations during the American Revolution. During the Seven Years' War, Britain was able to effectively distribute resources between European and global theaters of war. Throughout the 1760s and 1770s, however, it became increasingly isolated in Europe, and thus had no European ally when it tried to crush the American rebellion. The specter of a global war led the British governing elite to confront what they perceived to be their problem with the United States: owing to the weak governance of Britain's dependencies, the colonies were not capable of defending themselves or of making an adequate contribution to British efforts to defend them.
Stephen R. Conway
During the American Revolution, Britain relied primarily on its army to subdue the rebellious colonies. At its peak, the British army in North America had approximately 50,000 officers and men, constituting the largest expeditionary force sent overseas by any British governments. After nearly seven years of fighting, however, the British Parliament realized that military operations in the colonies would not crush the rebellion. The American Revolution has been linked to various myths, three of which relate to the British army and its role in the War of Independence. One myth is that the weaknesses of character and approach of the British army account for its loss in the war that it should have won. This chapter challenges the myths of the War of Independence and offers a different explanation for the failure of the British army to quash the American revolt.
During the American Revolution, tens of thousands of men served in the Continental army to fight Britain and became skilled professionals in the process. These soldiers formed deep bonds with each other, not only by fighting the enemy but also by living together, caring for each other when sick, burying their friends and enemies, tolerating their weak officers, celebrating their talented ones, foraging for food, and otherwise coping with all the hardships of army life. Created by the Continental Congress in June 1775, the Continental army fought the British until the war's end in 1783. Poor men made up the core of Continental servicemen. Officers and soldiers received very different pay. By the end of 1776, the Continental army was also dissolved. Both formal and informal punishment was consistent throughout the army. Militiamen did not receive corporal punishment, as sentenced by courts-martial or done informally by angry officers.
Direct democracy was practiced within town meetings in colonial New England, driven by four overarching principles. First, citizens had a political voice as members of a specific geographic community, rather than as individuals. Second, “the mind of the town,” as it was called at the time, could be readily determined through public discourse in meetings of the enfranchised citizenry. Third, this collective will could be relayed to higher governing bodies by issuing specific and binding instructions to elected representatives. Finally, citizens who opposed the mind of the town could be forced to abide by it through community pressure. While the American Revolution elicited its own examples of popular, democratic politics outside of official chambers, the overall trend was in the opposite direction. Formal representational structures generally superseded meetings of the body of the people by liberty trees and liberty polls, county conventions of committees of correspondence, and local committees of safety, inspection, and observation.
Clare A. Lyons
The American Revolution took place at a time of a revolutionary loosening of the patriarchal control and marital organization of sexuality that had characterized much of colonial society, as well as a counterrevolution against it. The Revolution and the birth of a new nation coincided with a longer period of changes in intimate behavior initiated by men and women on both sides of the Atlantic. Throughout much of western Europe, sexual behavior escalated outside of marriage, and new meanings associated with sexual practices flourished. In the new United States, sexual expression presented challenges to traditional social hierarchy. Like monarchy, patriarchy came under attack in the second half of the eighteenth century as a manifestation of illegitimate and absolute power. The second sexual revolution, launched to counter the democratic initiatives of the subalterns of early American society, was marked by attempts to define legitimate sexuality and the sexual self.
Eliga H. Gould
William Augustus Bowles was a loyalist soldier during the American Revolution who also acted as an agent for the British governor of the Bahamas. Had events gone his way, he could have become the Anglo-Creek leader of a British protectorate on North America's Gulf Coast, but instead, was considered a pirate and died in a Havana jail in 1805 while awaiting trial. Bowles's saga shows that the British Empire was not only a formal but also an informal empire. None had a greater stake in understanding how Britain's informal empire worked than the citizens of the thirteen states that gained independence from the British in 1783. It would be more accurate to see the American Revolution as the moment when Americans began to make the history that other nations and people were prepared to let them make. In this entangled history, Britain played the most significant role. Three pillars of its informal empire were commerce, diplomacy, and international law.
The American Revolution has spawned a number of creation myths, one of which relates to the wave of religious revivals that swept the colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. This chapter offers a different creation story: the pitched battle on May 26, 1771 that pitted angry farmers against the colonial militia in Hillsborough, North Carolina. The Great Awakening sparked the politicization of evangelicals in America. A process that the historian Nathan Hatch calls “the democratization of American Christianity” spanned five decades, bookended by the First and Second Great Awakenings with the American Revolution as the fulcrum point. The chapter discusses the evangelical ascendency in all its dimensions, focusing on five discrete “typologies” of evangelical Protestantism: the Insurgent, the Consumer, the Patriarch, the Martyr, and the Patriot. Each of these typologies tells us something important about both the history and the historiography of the evangelical contribution to the political crisis of the 1770s. The chapter concludes by looking at evangelical patriots and reexamining the relationship between revived religion and the American Revolution.